Shirley Temple & Bill “Bojangles” Robinson | Old Movie Teams
Shirley Temple & Bill Robinson Shirley Temple is listed as the star of The Little Colonel and The Littlest Rebel, but dancer Bill .. I did n' t know much about American race relationships then so just saw a friendship with an. Bill Robinson, the Harlem dancer nicknamed Bojangles, was there for to the curly-haired child star Shirley Temple in four successful movies. Shirley Temple enjoyed working with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Off camera and even sometimes on camera, she affectionately called him Uncle Billy.
A black man and a white girl are paired to dance in a film made during the Great Depression. Most everyone was in hard times, yet the color line was in full force. At that moment, they are two of the most famous people on the planet. Shirley Temple Black, who died Feb.
Constance Valis Hill, a historian of tap dancing, wrote a piece for The Huffington Post in which she cited Robinson and Temple as a groundbreaking interracial couple. That scene, one of U. She took his hand and learned his steps, and they danced their way into cinema history as the first interracial tap-dancing couple, albeit a 6-year-old white girl and year-old black man.
- Shirley Temple And Bojangles: Two Stars, One Lifelong Friendship
- Problematic Classics: The Little Colonel & The Littlest Rebel (1935)
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He took the "Bojangles" moniker before leaving Richmond to perform vaudeville. A recollection by childhood friend and dance partner Lemmeul V. The kids who mispronounced the name teased, "Who took Bojangles' hat?
Robinson's white agent, Marty Forkin, told a tale in which he was dining at The Jefferson, and after some slight, Robinson spilled soup on him. Somehow out of this, Forkin decided to sign Robinson to a contract.
Bill Robinson - Wikipedia
The same weekend he came to perform for the ball, he inaugurated the traffic light where his statue stands today. Robinson gave huge amounts to black charities and became a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America. But in changing social times, the "Bojangles" persona became problematic. Lena Horne, miscast alongside him in Stormy Weather as a love interest despite a near-half-century of age difference, didn't care for him.
In Horne's biography, Robinson is described as a purposeful subservient who carried a pistol, was poisonous to other blacks "and truly believed in the wit and wisdom of little Shirley Temple. In his later life, he gambled and died broke, and was then given what, at that time, was Harlem's largest funeral.
Shirley Temple was a woman who came of age during the civil rights struggle. And though she had few of the challenges Robinson faced, there is something quite contemporary and a little odd about her rise. The American entertainment machine of the Great Depression in the s latched onto Temple's dimples and vivacity to make her the best-known person in the world.
She was trained to entertain, but when the lights went out and the cameras didn't roll for her anymore, she didn't crack up, or end up as carrion for tabloid vultures to pick over. Still, it wasn't easy. Her first marriage dissolved, and her later films failed to make money, in large part because the studios didn't know how to cast a former little girl who'd grown into a young woman. In a small vignette in Hooray for Lovehe played a mayor of Harlem modeled after his own ceremonial honor; in One Mile from Heavenhe played a romantic lead opposite African-American actress Fredi Washington after Hollywood had relaxed its taboo against such roles for blacks.
Robinson and Rogers were good friends, and after Rogers' death, Robinson refused to fly, instead travelling by train to Hollywood for his film work. Lena Horne co-starred as Robinson's love interest, and the movie also featured Fats Waller in his final movie appearance before his death, playing with Cab Calloway and his orchestra.
The Nicholas Brothers are featured in the film's final dance sequence, performing to Calloway's "Jumpin' Jive", in what Fred Astaire called "the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen". The distinctive sound of Robinson's tap dancing was frequently featured, but Robinson also sang, made sound effects, and told jokes and stories from his vaudeville acts.
It was also on the radio and in his recordings that Robinson introduced and popularized a word of his own invention, copasetic, which he had used for years in his vaudeville shows, and which was added to Webster's Dictionary in They separated inand the marriage ended in His second wife was Fannie S.
Clay whom he married shortly after his divorce from Chase. They divorced in His third marriage was in to Elaine Plaines in Columbus, Ohioand they remained together until Robinson's death in There were no children from any of the marriages. Political figures and celebrities appointed Robinson an honorary mayor of Harlema lifetime member of policemen's associations and fraternal orders, and a mascot of the New York Giants major league baseball team.
Robinson reciprocated with open-handed generosity and frequently credited the white dancer James Barton for his contribution to his dancing style.
Death[ edit ] The last theatrical project for Robinson was to have been Two Gentlemen from the South, with James Barton as the master and Robinson as his servant, in which the black and white roles reverse and eventually the two come together as equals, but the show did not open.
A friend remarked, "he was handing over his crown, like him saying, 'this is my good-bye. His funeral was arranged and paid for by longtime friend and television host Ed Sullivan. Robinson lay in repose at the th Infantry Regiment Armory in Harlem, where an estimated 32, people filed past his open casket to pay their last respects.
Problematic Classics: The Little Colonel & The Littlest Rebel () | Frock Flicks
The schools in Harlem were closed for a half-day so that children could attend or listen to the funeral, which was broadcast over the radio.
Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. Legacy[ edit ] Robinson in Robinson was successful despite the obstacle of racism. A favorite Robinson anecdote is that he seated himself in a restaurant and a customer objected to his presence. When the manager suggested that it might be better if Robinson leave, he smiled and asked, "Have you got a ten-dollar bill? The restaurant manager served Robinson without further delay. Inwhile in his hometown of Richmondhe saw two children caught between the heat of traffic to retrieve their ball.
There was no stoplight at the intersection: Robinson went to the city and provided the money to have one installed.
Ina statue of "Bojangles", sculpted by Jack Witt, at the intersection of Adams and West Leigh Streets was established in a small park at the intersection. The team was a successful member of the Negro National League until it disbanded inafter Major League Baseball was desegregated.
Ina joint U.
Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in Popular myths, legends, and misconceptions[ edit ] There are several commonly cited anecdotes about Robinson that are likely the result of conflicting stories put out by Robinson's second wife Fanny, or his manager, Marty Forkins, or by various show business associates of Robinson.
There are also numerous documented instances in which Robinson gave conflicting stories to news reporters at different times. S entered World War I, and received a letter of commendation from the War Department for his work during the war in boosting morale at training camps in the United States, not overseas.
Bojangles"[ edit ] Tales about the origin of Robinson's nickname even varied across the color line, a consequence of differing opinions of him by blacks and whites.
To whites, for example, his nickname "Bojangles" meant happy-go-lucky, while the black variety artist Tom Fletcher claimed it was slang for "squabbler. Robinson's biographer estimates that they met in late and were married in early After Robinson's death, Forkins and his wife, Rae Samuels, admitted that Samuels made the introduction after having seen Robinson perform with his partner, George Cooper. The ruse was successful, making Robinson one of the first solo acts to break vaudeville's two-colored rulewhich required African-American performers to work in pairs.
The word was used in films Robinson made with Shirley Temple in the s. InRobinson set the world record for running backward yards in Bojangles"[ edit ] Jerry Jeff Walker 's folk song " Mr. Bojangles " indirectly makes reference to Robinson. According to Walker, it was inspired by Walker's encounter with a white street performer in the New Orleans first precinct jail, a street performer who called himself "Bo Jangles", presumably taking his pseudonym from Robinson.
By Robinson's own account and those of his friends, he neither smoked nor drank although he was a frequent and avid gambler: Controversies[ edit ] Uncle Tom roles[ edit ] Robinson came under heavy criticism for playing stereotyped roles, and took offense at such claims. Once, after being named as an " Uncle Tom " in the New York newspaper The Age, Robinson went to its office in Harlem, pistol in hand, demanding to see the editor. In his eulogy at Robinson's funeral, Rev.
Adam Clayton Powell argued against the claim that Robinson was an Uncle Tom figure, focusing on Robinson's ability as an entertainer and a person to transcend color lines. Bogle later modulated his criticism by noting that the reliable, articulate Uncle Billy character in The Littlest Rebel was a cut above the characters portrayed by Lincoln "Stepin Fetchit" Perry. In addition to the impact of Jim Crow policies and the Depression, Haskins writes, "That Bill traveled, at least professionally, in increasingly white circles was not so much a matter of choice as one of reality.
He took this role seriously performing over three thousand benefits in the course of his career, aiding hundreds of unorganized charities and individuals.
On September 30, he was convicted and sentenced to 11—15 years hard labor at Sing Sing prison. Robinson had failed to take the charges and trial seriously and paid little attention to mounting a defense. After his conviction, Robinson's partner, George Cooper, organized his most influential friends to vouch for him, and hired a new attorney who produced evidence that Robinson had been falsely accused.
Though he was exonerated at his second trial and his accusers indicted for perjury, the trial and time spent in the Tombs Manhattan's prison complex affected Robinson deeply.
After he was released, he made a point of registering his pistol at the local police station of each town where he performed. Robinson's second wife, Fanny, also sent a letter of introduction with complimentary tickets and other gifts to the local police chief's wife in each town ahead of Robinson's engagements.
Despite his fame from his four Olympic track wins, undermining Adolf Hitler 's claims of Aryan supremacy, Owens found most of the offers that had been made to employ him had been nothing more than publicity stunts that had no substance.Shirley Temple - The Littlest Rebel - 1935
Robinson was the one exception, finding work for Owens within a few months of his return to the U. Robinson also introduced Owens to his manager, Marty Forkins,  who secured a series of demonstration races for Owens which were viewed by many as degrading to the dignity of an Olympic athlete, most notably an event in Cuba in which Owens raced against a horse.
Robinson had done many such races including a race in which he set the world record for running backwards and did not view them as undignified. Moreover, the events paid Owens well and provided him with a source of funds when no one else was offering him employment or helping him financially. Sawyer had been Shirley Temple's dance coach during the time Temple and Robinson made movies together, and Sawyer had taken tap lessons from Robinson while he was teaching Temple and choreographing her routines.
Robinson suggested to the producers that Sawyer could be cast as his partner if she wore blackface. Although the scene was shot with Sawyer in blackface, the studio became convinced that a mixed-race adult couple dancing together would be too controversial: In it, Astaire famously dances to three of his shadows. Duke Ellington composed "Bojangles A Portrait of Bill Robinson ", a set of rhythmic variations as a salute to the great dancer.
The Biography of Bill Robinson Morrowwas published in A made-for-television film entitled Bojangles was released in While Jerry Jeff Walker 's folk song " Mr.